He was not born here
like the others
this cotton picker,
not a tourist either,
a loner even to the dark-skinned woman
who showed interest.
He just wanted work like we all do
and, if it wasn’t toiling in the fields,
then maybe something about the house,
a gutter that needed mending,
or some brick steps or a garage door.
He was capable hands and strong back
and where he came from
couldn’t alter that fact.
“How are you with cars?” somebody asked.
His answer got him a job
looking under hoods
and lying flat on his back,
nose to rust with exhaust systems.
When folks asked where he came from
it was of each other
They figured he must have come from somewhere,
must have done something
in the thirty or so years
he’d lived already.
All they knew was,
he yawned when he was tired
and when he cut himself shaving,
He was five-foot ten inches,
maybe 170 pounds.
and he had to fit that body someplace,
feed it, clothe it, shelter it,
and he did.
One day the cops came looking for him
but he was gone by then.
They too had a place to fill
with their brawn in blue uniforms,
their guns in their holsters.
They might have even stood where he stood.
In his footprints maybe.
But not in his shoes.
The Other America
There was an America
of red brick with limestone trim.
It was small, overcrowded,
and stood, in upper New York Bay,
at the edge of that other vast America.
It wasn't divided into states
but mingled with European nationalities,
No homes, not even tenements,
merely huge dormitories
filled wall to wall with bunk beds,
the only blankets, on cold winter nights,
the nearness of others,
No one lived there permanently.
All were poked and prodded by doctors,
interrogated as if guilty of the crime
of being from somewhere else.
Some were finally ferried to the new world.
Others were sent back the way they came.
That America is entrusted to its ghosts now.
Tourists amble through those phantoms,
unaware but touched.
When they're done, they'll catch a boat
back to the mainland.
No one's divided into categories.
Nobody is weeded out.
They come. They go.
Back in Manhattan,
they do not even realize they've been abroad.
They figured they had just come from America.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in the Homestead Review, Poetry East and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Harpur Palate, the Hawaii Review and North Dakota Quarterly.